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Don’t Ruin the Past with Reality

I really enjoyed this article and photo for The 40-Year-Old Photo That Gives Us A Reason To Smile. Great story behind the photo, and it’s a wonderful photo itself of these five kids just smiling and being kids.

The slice of life he caught that day was a picture of five young friends in a rain-washed alley in downtown Mount Clemens. And what distinguishes it are its subjects: three black children, two white ones, giggling in each others’ arms.

Great story, great image. Photography does this, it stops time. It allows us to reflect and see things from a different perspective. Then, towards the end of the article is this:

Between Facebook and the newspaper, he has solid leads on where the children are today.

Leave it to us to screw up something that’s been great for 40 years. How about we don’t find these children today. How about we just leave that moment 40 years ago as it was, and reflect on it for what it is then and now. How about we not do the followup 5 articles on each one of these kids and how their life has turned out. It isn’t relevant nor does it add any value to the image.

Let it be, it’s better that way.

1 Comment

  1. This is an interesting take on the “Forty-Year-Old Photo”.

    I’m the guy who took the picture. I was twenty-three then and still in my formative years as a photographer. I think part of the reason that I was able to make that picture was because I was a blank sheet of paper, so to speak. My mind and heart were open. In some ways I was as innocent as those children.

    Forty years later I have been overwhelmed by the positive response to the image. As I have said more than once recently, I believe it speaks to our common humanity. It speaks to our basic desire to be happy. Unfortunately as adults we often lose sight of those basic instincts. We look for happiness outside of ourselves rather than finding it within. As adults we often focus on what divides us rather than what unites us. Back in 1973 those children found happiness with one another.

    Regarding the idea of a reunion, I agree with one aspect of you are saying, but there is also a point at which we disagree. The media frenzy over this photograph has been surprising to me. As I said when I posted it on my facebook page, it was a simple moment that came and went so quickly. It was not a big news story. It’s not a memorable photograph in the sense that pictures of the flag raising at Iwo Jima or the murder of Bobby Kennedy have become. Bu the news media are a funny bunch. Something becomes a story and then everyone has to get their spin on it. Having been in that business for a number of years I became all too familiar with the pack mentality. That’s part of the reason I got out, but that’s another story.

    On a very personal level, however, there was always an unanswered question for me, which was simply, where are they now and what are they doing? I think it’s perfectly normal for a photographer to wonder what became of someone in an old photograph. Whether there will ever be a reunion is questionable. In the first week after the picture went viral the Today Show contacted me and wanted to fly us all to New York for an exclusive, live on the air reunion, but it never happened. The news cycle changes so rapidly these days. Within a few days my photo was old news, probably blown off the front page by the Royal Baby or some such thing.

    I have spoken to four of the five people in the photograph on the telephone. Two are in Texas and three are still in Michigan. We have talked about a reunion but nobody has come forward to buy three plane tickets as of yet. For me at least there has been some closure. All of the people I spoke to seem like very happy and well adjusted adults. They have been, like me, overwhelmed by the popularity of this photograph, but they are having fun with it, just as I am. If there is to be a reunion I want it to be on the street where I shot the picture, just the five of us with no media buzz. I want it to be an opportunity to get to know one another and perhaps answer some questions about the power of that photograph. I also want it to be an opportunity to ask new questions of ourselves about human relationships and lost innocence.

    Those children have always given me a reason the be optimistic. Now that I know something about them as adults my optimism has been renewed. In this case at least, the past has not been ruined by the reality.

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